G. R. No. 149253 - April 15, 2004
SPOUSES JIMMY and PATRI CHAN, Petitioners, vs. REGIONAL TRIAL COURT OF ZAMBOANGA DEL NORTE IN DIPOLOG CITY, Branch 9, CYREANO HAMOY, and SHIELDA HAMOY-SINGALIVO, Respondents.
D E C I S I O N
CALLEJO, SR., J.:
This is a petition for review on certiorari of the Decision1 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 55730 and its Resolution denying the petitioners' motion for reconsideration of said decision.
The petition stemmed from the following backdrop:
On June 20, 1994, Shielda Hamoy-Singalivo and her brother, Cyreano Hamoy, as plaintiffs, filed a Complaint for Damages in the Regional Trial Court of Zamboanga del Norte, Branch 9, against the spouses Jimmy Chan and Patri Bajamunde-Chan and their employee, Virgilio Tagapan Egay. The plaintiffs alleged therein, inter alia, as follows:
The plaintiffs prayed that, after due proceedings, judgment be rendered in their favor, thus:
WHEREFORE, after having considered the foregoing premises, the Honorable Court is respectfully prayed that judgment issue holding defendants jointly and solidarily liable under Articles 2176 and 2180 of the New Civil Code of the Philippines, and ordering them to pay plaintiffs the following items of damages:
Plaintiff Cyreano Hamoy verified the complaint without, however, including a certificate of non-forum shopping as required by Supreme Court Administrative Circular No. 04-94. Nonetheless, on July 11, 1994, the defendants-spouses Jimmy and Patri Chan, therein, filed their answer to the complaint. The defendants did not question the plaintiffs' non-compliance with the circular.
On July 19, 1994, the defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss the complaint for failure of the plaintiffs to comply with the said circular. The hearing on the motion was set on July 28, 1994 at 8:30 a.m., and a copy thereof was served on the plaintiffs by registered mail on July 18, 1994. During the hearing of the motion, the court issued an order directing the plaintiffs to file their comment on the motion within ten (10) days from notice thereof. The plaintiffs appended to their opposition their Motion dated July 25, 1994 praying for the admission of page 7 of their complaint, incorporating therein an affidavit of non-forum shopping executed by their counsel, Atty. Eduardo T. Sedillo. On August 18, 1994, the trial court issued an Order denying the motion to dismiss on the following grounds:
The court is satisfied (with) the explanation made by the plaintiffs that the non-submission or compliance with Administrative Circular No. 04-94 of the Supreme Court was by reason of inadvertence and not willful. With the "affidavit of non-forum shopping" now on record to form part of the complaint, as herein admitted, the ground upon which the motion to dismiss is relied may no longer hold. Accordingly, the motion to dismiss is DENIED.
The defendants did not file any motion for the reconsideration of the order. Neither did they file any petition for certiorari in the Court of Appeals assailing the order of the trial court.
Meanwhile, the defendant Virgilio Egay filed his answer5 alleging affirmative defenses, notably, that the plaintiffs had no cause of action against him. He, likewise, interposed a counterclaim against the plaintiffs.
The parties filed their respective pre-trial briefs. The defendants- spouses proposed the following issues to be litigated on and resolved by the trial court:
After a series of postponements, the initial trial was finally set on March 22, 1999. Plaintiff Cyreano Hamoy testified on the said date. After the plaintiff's testimony, the defendants-spouses, through counsel, manifested in open court their intention to file a second motion to dismiss the complaint for the plaintiffs' failure to comply with SC Administrative Circular No. 04-94, in light of plaintiff Cyreano Hamoy's admission that neither he nor his sister executed a verified certification against forum shopping.7
The defendants-spouses filed their second Motion to Dismiss8 on March 26, 1999, or almost five (5) years from the August 18, 1994 Order of the trial court denying their first motion to dismiss. They stressed that the certification against forum shopping ordained under the Rules is to be executed by the respondents, and not by their counsel. They cited jurisprudence9 that a certification against forum shopping by counsel is a defective certification.
On June 1, 1999, the plaintiffs filed their Opposition10 to the motion to dismiss, contending that the issue on the certificate of non-forum shopping had long been settled by the trial court in its Order dated August 18, 1994, which the defendants-spouses never questioned either by a motion for reconsideration or by a petition for certiorari. They averred that the brevity of the period between the date of the effectivity of Administrative Circular No. 04-94 and the date of the filing of the complaint, i.e., April 1, 1994 and June 20, 1994, respectively, justifies the relaxation of the circular. Besides, subsequent rulings of the Court which strictly require the plaintiffs to sign the certification against forum shopping "should not be allowed to retroact, otherwise, substantial rights will be prejudiced."
On June 8, 1999, the defendants filed their Reply11 to the opposition in which they contended that adherence to the circular is "mandatory," and that a party to a suit has no vested rights or interests in procedural rules. They assert that the plaintiffs' counsel could have simply asked them to execute the certificate at any time before the lapse of the statute of limitations for their action.
In a Resolution12 dated June 28, 1999, the trial court denied the defendants-spouses' second motion to dismiss for lack of merit. The trial court held that the said defendants were barred by laches from assailing for the second time the deficiency in the plaintiffs' complaint. Citing the rulings of this Court in Cadalin v. POEA Administrator13 and Kavinta v. Castillo, Jr,14 the trial court reiterated its previous order that the plaintiffs had substantially complied with the requirement of SC Administrative Circular No. 04-94. Moreover, it observed that the defendants-spouses' second motion to dismiss was but a reiteration of their first motion to dismiss. The latter sought a reconsideration15 of the resolution, but the same was denied by the trial court in its Order dated August 26, 1994.
Aggrieved, the defendants, now petitioners, elevated the matter to the Court of Appeals via a petition for certiorari and prohibition with a prayer for a writ of preliminary injunction. The petition was docketed as CA-G.R. SP No. 55730.
On May 12, 2000, the Court of Appeals rendered its Decision denying the petition for lack of merit. It ruled that there was substantial compliance by the respondents therein with SC Administrative Circular No. 04-94. It ruled that the proximity between the date of the effectivity of the circular and the filing of the complaint is a "special circumstance" which warranted the relaxation of the rule. It cited the ruling of the Court in Loyola v. Court of Appeals16 as controlling.
With the denial of their motion for reconsideration, the petitioners came to this Court with the instant petition for review on certiorari and raised the following issues:
The petitioners contend that there was no substantial compliance by the respondents of SC Administrative Circular No. 04-94. They argue that the ruling of this Court in Loyola v. CA cited by the Court of Appeals in support of its challenged decision is inapropos. In that case, what was belatedly submitted was a certification of non-forum shopping signed by the principal party, whereas, in this case, the certification of non-forum shopping was signed by the parties' counsel. The petitioners cite Tomarong v. Lubguban18 and Far Eastern Shipping Co. v. Court of Appeals,19 to buttress their view that the CA erred in dismissing their petition for certiorari.
The petition is denied due course and is dismissed.
The petitioners were burdened to prove that the trial court committed grave abuse of its discretion amounting to excess or lack of jurisdiction in issuing the assailed order. This Court has consistently ruled that in a petition for certiorari from an interlocutory order, the petitioner is burdened to prove that the remedy of appeal would not afford adequate and expeditious relief.20 A remedy is considered plain, speedy and adequate if it will promptly relieve the petitioners from the injurious effects of the acts of the lower court or agency. Appeal in due course is a speedy and adequate remedy.[21 A tribunal acts with grave abuse of discretion only where it is clearly shown that there is a patent and gross abuse of discretion as to amount to an evasion of positive duty or to virtual refusal to perform a duty enjoined by law, or to act at all in contemplation of law, as where the power is exercised in an arbitrary and despotic manner by reason of passion or personal hostility.22 The petitioners failed to discharge their burden.
First. The trial court acted in the exercise of its sound discretion when it denied the petitioners' second motion to dismiss, in light of the factual and antecedent milieu. By so doing, the trial court gave more importance to the resolution of the case on the merits.
Second. We agree with the ratiocinations of the trial court for denying the petitioners' second motion to dismiss, thus:
It should be noted that in the early stage of the implementation of Memorandum Circular No. 04-94 of the Supreme Court, the certification of the lawyer of non-forum shopping was considered sufficient. The Supreme Court does not have yet a clearcut ruling in this regard, until it promulgated a Decision to that effect. Thus, in the case of Cadalin vs. POEA Administrator, 238 SCRA 721, the High Court said: "Circular No. 04-94, the Anti-Forum Shopping Rule (Revised Circular No. 28-91) applied only to petitions filed with the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals. So, when the then Presiding Judge Garcia of this Court denied defendant's first motion to dismiss for having satisfied the explanation of plaintiff and the latter having substantially complied with the Memorandum Circular No. 04-94, the Court then was right. Thus, in Kavinta vs. Castillo, Jr., 249 SCRA 604, the Supreme Court held: "Administrative Circular No. 04-94 is mandatory but substantial compliance therewith is sufficient. Hence, plaintiffs themselves need not file the required certification for they have substantially complied the same thru their counsel.
Moreover, the questioned order of denial was issued August 18, 1994, almost five (5) years ago. It has therefore become final without the defendant having filed a motion for reconsideration of the denial within the reglementary period. Defendants are therefore barred by laches. And whatever error or lapses made by the Court, if there was any, in considering the submission of the certification by the counsel, not by the parties themselves as substantial compliance of Memorandum Circular No. 04-94 becomes the law of the case. For "whatever is once irrevocably established as the controlling legal rule of the decision between the parties in the same case continues to be the law of the case whether correct on general principle or not, so long as the facts on which such decision is predicated continue to be the facts of the case before the Court." (5 Corpus Juris Secundum, 1267, 1276-77, 1286-87).
Defendants want now to invoke the law on laches and/or prescription which they themselves disclaim and abhor. They wanted to "have the cake and eat it too," so to speak.23
We also agree with the ruminations of the appellate court in affirming the assailed order of the trial court:
While, as admitted by private respondents, the certification was signed merely by their counsel, the Court considers the same as substantial compliance with the circular. As correctly noted by respondent Court, at the time petitioners filed their motion dismiss, Supreme Court Circular No. 04-94 was still in its infancy. No clear-cut rule was yet established vis-à-vis the signatories of the certification of non-forum shopping, thus, courts admitted certifications of non-forum shopping signed merely by the parties' counsel. As such, the Court cannot find fault with respondent Court's admission of the certificate of non-forum shopping and no grave abuse of discretion can be imputed thereon.
Moreover, the circumstances of this case justify the continuation of the proceedings before the trial court. It must be noted that the complaint for damages was filed way back on June 20, 1994, or more than five (5) years ago. Trial on the merits has already proceeded. It would be the height of inequity and a waste of the court's time and resources if the case would be dismissed, only to be refiled later.24
Third. The appeal in due course was not only available to the petitioner but was also a speedy and adequate remedy. The petitioners, in fact, were already aware that as early as July 27, 1994, the certification of non-forum shopping submitted by the respondents was executed by their counsel and not by one of them. However, the petitioners opted to continue with the proceedings in the trial court after their first motion to dismiss was denied on August 18, 1994. Respondent Cyreano Hamoy completed his testimony after a grueling cross-examination and re-cross-examination by the counsel of the petitioners. The petitioners did not even file a motion for reconsideration of the said order, nor file a petition for certiorari assailing the said order. Apparently, the petitioners themselves deemed the certificate of non-forum shopping executed by the respondents' counsel as a substantial compliance by the respondents with the circular of the Court. The petitioners did not even include in their pre-trial brief as one of the issues to be resolved by the trial court, the issue of whether or not the complaint of the respondents should be dismissed for their failure to incorporate therein the requisite certificate of non-forum shopping. Pre-trial was terminated and trial was, thereafter, set and reset several times. It was only after the lapse of almost five years from August 18, 1994 that the petitioners filed their second motion to dismiss the complaint, on the same ground. If the petitioners believed that appeal in due course was not the adequate and speedy remedy from the August 18, 1994 Order of the trial court, they should have filed, without delay, a motion for the reconsideration thereof; and in case the court denied the said motion, the petition for certiorari in the Court of Appeals. The petitioners failed to do so. They tarried for almost five years before filing their second motion to dismiss the complaint.
Fourth. There is no question that SC Administrative Circular No. 04-94 of Section 5, Rule 7 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure requiring the pleader to submit a certificate of non-forum shopping to be executed by the plaintiff or principal party is mandatory. A certification of the plaintiff's counsel will not suffice for the following reason:
Obviously, it is the petitioner, and not always the counsel whose professional services have been retained for a particular case, who is in the best position to know whether he or it actually filed or caused the filing of a petition in that case. Hence, a certification against forum shopping by counsel is a defective certification. It is clearly equivalent to non-compliance with the requirement under Section 2, Rule 42 in relation to Section 4, Rule 45, and constitutes a valid cause for dismissal of the petition.25
In Melo v. Court of Appeals,26 the Court held that the subsequent compliance with the requirement cannot excuse a party from failure to comply in the first instance. But in Far Eastern Shipping Company v. Court of Appeals,27 in view of the fact that at around the time these petitions were commenced, the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure had just taken effect, the Court in evaluating full compliance therewith treated infractions of the New Rules with relative liberality. Also, in the same case, this Court declared that "in the same view, we shall consider the verification signed in behalf of MPA by its counsel, Atty. Amparo in G.R. No. 130150 as substantial compliance inasmuch as it served the purpose of the Rules of informing the Court of the pendency of another action or proceeding involving the same issues." The Court went on to stress that procedural rules are instruments in the speedy and efficient administration of justice and they should be used to achieve such end and not to derail it.
In Damasco v. NLRC,28 the Court noted that the certificate of non-forum shopping was made by the petitioners' counsel, but nevertheless resolved the case on its merits for the reason that "technicality should not be allowed to stand in the way of equitably and completely resolving the equity and obligations of the parties to a labor case. And in Uy v. Land Bank of the Philippines,29 this Court ruled, thus:
The lack of certification against forum shopping, on the other hand, is generally not curable by the submission thereof after the filing of the petition. Section 5, Rule 45 of the Rules of Court provides that the failure of petitioner to submit the required documents that should accompany the petition, including the certification against forum shopping, shall be sufficient ground for the dismissal thereof.
In some cases, though, this Court deemed the belated filing of the certification as substantial compliance with the requirement. In Loyola vs. Court of Appeals, the Court held that the filing of the certification, a day after the filing of an election protest and while within the reglementary period, constituted substantial compliance.
In Kavinta vs. Castillo, Jr., the Court allowed the submission of the certification after the filing of the petition since Administrative Circular 04-94 was then in effect for only a little over a month when the complaint was filed. "The proximity then of the filing of the complaint to the date of the effectivity of the Circular may be pleaded as a justifiable circumstance, and the belated filing of the certification required thereunder may be deemed a substantial compliance therewith." The ruling, however, was expressly pro hac vice:
" We thus rule pro hac vice, but not without a whit of reluctance, that this special circumstance in this case could sustain the action of the respondent Judge. This should not be taken, however, as a precedent. Elsewise stated, the mere submission of a certification under Administrative Circular No. 04-94 after the filing of a motion to dismiss on the ground of non-compliance thereof does not ipso facto operate as a substantial compliance; otherwise the Circular would lose its value or efficacy."
In Roadway Express, Inc. vs. Court of Appeals, the Court considered as substantial compliance the filing of the certification 14 days before the dismissal of the petition. The Court even cited an instance where this Court allowed the filing of the certification even after the dismissal of the petition for non-compliance with the requirement:
" If subsequent compliance [citing Sanchez vs. CA, G.R. 111255, February 7, 1994, First Division, Minute Resolution] with Circular 28-91, after a petition was dismissed for non-compliance was considered by the court as substantial compliance [citing Fajardo, Jr. vs. CA, G.R. 112558, en banc, Minute Resolution], with more reason should the petition for review be allowed in this case, in view of the compliance prior to the dismissal of the petition."
The admission of the petition after the belated filing of the certification, therefore, is not unprecedented. In those cases where the Court excused non-compliance with the requirements, there were special circumstances or compelling reasons making the strict application of the rule clearly unjustifed. In the case at bar, the apparent merits of the substantive aspects of the case should be deemed as a "special circumstance" or "compelling reason" for the reinstatement of the petition. That counsel for petitioner filed the "verification/certification" before receipt for the resolution initially denying the petition also mitigates the oversight.
In any event, this Court has the power to suspend its own rules when, as in this case, the ends of justice would be served thereby.
In Sy Chin v. Court of Appeals,30 this Court held that the procedural lapse of a party's counsel in signing the certificate of non-forum shopping may be overlooked if the interests of substantial justice would thereby be served.
In this case, the Complaint of the respondents was filed on June 20, 1994, two and a half months after SC Administrative Circular No. 04-94 took effect. Considering such dates, the said rule may be said to have been recent, a "justifying circumstance" which would make the belated filing of the certification required thereunder as substantial compliance therewith. The interests of substantial justice would be better subserved if the belated compliance by the respondents of the requisite certificate executed by their counsel subsequent to the petitioners' first motion to dismiss be deemed as a substantial compliance of the rule. It must be borne in mind that the action of the respondents against the petitioners is one for damages. The respondents interposed counter-claims against the petitioners. Prescinding from the procedural lapse of the respondents, the resolution of the substantial issues of the case on the merits by the trial court without undue delay should be paramount.
IN LIGHT OF ALL THE FOREGOING, the petition is DENIED DUE COURSE and is hereby DISMISSED. The decision of the appellate court is AFFIRMED. No costs.
Puno, J., Chairman, Quisumbing, Martinez, Callejo, Sr., and Tinga, JJ. concur
Search for www.chanrobles.com
|Copyright © ChanRoblesPublishing Company| Disclaimer | E-mailRestrictions|
ChanRobles™Virtual Law Library ™ | chanrobles.com™